You’ve likely heard the old saying, “Saving for a rainy day.” The concept of putting money aside for a “rainy day” in the event you have an unexpected expense and find that your funds have run “dry.” In such circumstances, your “rainy day fund” can come in handy because you thoughtfully planned in advance to have sufficient resources available, when needed. Here in Los Angeles County, the Safe Clean Water Program, funded by a special parcel tax approved by the voters in November 2018, is a great example of this concept and is helping our region prepare for a more sustainable water future.
As I write this, I recognize that we have experienced a tremendous amount of “rainy days” (literally) during the past few months, in remarkable contrast to the mostly “dry” winters of recent years. Full flood control channels, flooded streets, and streams of stormwater flowing to our beaches during these storms have raised awareness about the value of stormwater capture and how it can help us save up for those future “rainy days” when dry, drought conditions return again.
As we continue to experience the cycle of extreme droughts followed by torrential storms, the Safe Clean Water Program is building a sustainable water supply future for Los Angeles County and enhanced resilience for our communities. The program’s funding for regional multi-benefit stormwater infrastructure projects thus far is $670 million, including $530 million in projects benefiting disadvantaged communities. Combined with leveraged funds from other government agencies and programs totaling $542 million, the total investment in regional stormwater programs driven by the Safe Clean Water Program to date is $1.2 billion.
In addition to regional multi-benefit stormwater infrastructure projects, the Safe Clean Water Program also provides approximately $112 million annually in direct funding to cities proportional to the revenues generated within each city’s boundaries to maximize the ability of local governments to address local stormwater and urban runoff challenges. This is considerable funding to help cities, large and small, implement meaningful programs in their communities.
At the risk of sounding cliché, it is important to emphasize that the Safe Clean Water program is akin to a marathon, not a sprint. Program implementation has been thoughtful and deliberate in creating a governance structure to ensure for financial accountability, including stringent reporting and auditing requirements for funding recipients, consistent with the promises made to voters when they overwhelmingly approved Measure W in November 2018.
Adaptive management has characterized the program as it matures, incorporating best practices, lessons learned, updated guidance, and conducting studies to refine program metrics and monitoring criteria through broad stakeholder involvement and extensive technical research and modeling.
Watersheds vary across the county, each with unique characteristics that determine the types of stormwater capture projects that are appropriate for unique geological, environmental, and hydrological conditions. What may work in the Upper LA River Watershed to infiltrate stormwater may not work in the Central Santa Monica Bay watershed. In addition, the condition of existing infrastructure across the county varies, which in some areas may limit or require special attention relating to the type of stormwater capture facilities and technologies, including nature-based solutions, that can be utilized.
Disadvantaged community needs, availability of open space, and equity issues also differ across the county. Some areas are densely populated, others more rural or suburban. All these factors can contribute to the types of projects that can be funded, project cost, related project benefits, and project schedules.
A major focus of the Safe Clean Water Program has been to develop and implement a collaborative stakeholder and community engagement process that incorporates community input and watershed-specific considerations. The process has been deliberate and thoughtful.
It is a delicate balance to effectively create partnerships and address unique concerns across Los Angeles County’s 88 cities, numerous local and regional government agencies, hundreds of community-based organizations, residents, and the business community. With Watershed Coordinators now conducting outreach and engagement in their respective watershed areas with local stakeholders, awareness about the program and opportunities for community partnerships will continue to grow and add to the success of the program.
The Safe Clean Water Program is creating a “rainy day” plan for all Los Angeles County residents and represents a significant investment in our region’s resilience and the long-term sustainability of our local communities as we face the challenges of climate change. The Safe Clean Water Program is LA’s blueprint for building a new kind of stormwater infrastructure that is capable of improving water quality and reducing our reliance on imported water by creating local sources of safe clean water.
Former Chair, Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board
Member, Los Angeles County Safe Clean Water Program Regional Oversight Committee